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August 28, 2000


Lancelot Ware, 85, Co-Founder of Mensa


Lancelot Ware, a British barrister who was the co-founder of Mensa, the society for intellectually gifted people, died on Aug. 15 in a nursing home in Surrey, England. He was 85.

Ware became interested in unusually bright people when his father died, leaving him to care for his sister, who was ten years younger than he. His realization that both of them were highly intelligent led to an interest in intelligence testing.

In 1945, when Ware was a postgraduate student of law at Lincoln College, Oxford, he met Roland Berrill, an eccentric barrister from Australia who had become fixated with Oxford since being rejected by the school. Together the two men founded an association for people with strong intellects.

Today, there are about 100,000 Mensa members in 100 countries and active Mensa organizations in over 40 countries, on every continent except Antarctica.

The only requirement for membership is proof that the applicant has an IQ in the top 2 percent of the population.

Members range in age from 4 to 94, but most are between 20 and 49. They include both high school dropouts and people with multiple doctorates. Some are on welfare, while some are millionaires. And they hold many jobs -- professors, truck drivers, scientists, firefighters, farmers, computer programmers, glass blowers, artists and police officers.

Smart as the two founders were, they could not at first settle on a name for their aristocracy of intellect.

They began by calling it the High IQ Club. When that sounded too prosaic they considered "Mens" -- Latin for mind. But that was also the name of a racy gentleman's magazine. So they made it Mensa, and clung to that even though it was soon discovered that Mensa, which means table in Latin, also means idiot in Mexican slang.

The original object of Mensa was to create a list of the names and addresses of 600 of the most intelligent people in Britain so that they could be contacted by scholars and governmental officials in case of need. It was perhaps not surprising that Mensa's courting of the government went unrequited.

But Ware did not lose his enthusiasm. "I found that people of high intelligence were people I had an easy rapport with," he once said.

Mensa developed as its goals to identify and foster human intelligence for the benefit of humanity, to encourage research in the field of intelligence and to promote stimulating activities for its members.

Currently, though, the stated object of the association is "enjoying each other's company and participating in a wide range of social and cultural activities."

Membership is still determined by intelligence testing -- even after the worth of such tests was challenged. In 1995, International Mensa was attacked when its Los Angeles newsletter proposed euthanasia for the old, ill or mentally retarded.

Lancelot Lionel Ware was born in Mitcham, Surrey. During World War II, he served as a research chemist, but later said he quit because he was given three months' worth of work to do in three days.

In addition to his study of law, he studied at the Imperial College of Science and Technology in London, and was a medical researcher and lecturer at St. Thomas' Hospital in London.

In his legal work, Ware specialized in intellectual property, copyright and patents.

Ware is survived by his wife, Francesca Quint Ware, a fellow member of Mensa.

Ware lost interest in Mensa in 1950, but after Berrill died in 1961 Ware rejoined the society and became vigorously active in the 1970s.

In recent years, Ware had traveled widely to meet Mensa members. Last year he was named president of the Mensa Foundation for Gifted Children.

But Mensa was still an organization in search of a purpose, and to some degree remains so today.


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